DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan – An Iraqi al-Qaida operative was believed to be one of 15 militants killed in two U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan's tribal belt along the Afghan border Monday, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
The officials said the man, identified as Abu Zaid al-Iraqi, handled the terrorist group's finances in Pakistan. He was not known to be on any published U.S. lists of wanted al-Qaida leaders, and U.S. officials do not normally acknowledge the existence of the CIA-led missile program or talk about who is being killed.
The two strikes, coming roughly 24 hours apart, were the first since the arrest of a U.S. citizen who shot two Pakistanis in late January. There had been speculation that Washington had put a hold on the disputed tactic while it pressured Pakistan to release the American, saying he has diplomatic immunity and acted in self-defense.
In the first strike, which occurred overnight Monday, three missiles hit a house in the village of Kaza Panga in the Azam Warsak area of the South Waziristan tribal region, said two intelligence officials.
Al-Iraqi was believed to be one of several foreigners among the seven dead. He was described as being in his late 30s and going by the local name "Ali Khan." Al-Iraqi is believed to have shifted to South Waziristan in 2008 after time spent in Afghanistan.
The officials said they learned of his death through agents on the ground in South Waziristan, as well as sources in the Taliban. Nonetheless, independent confirmation of such deaths is nearly impossible because of the remote, dangerous nature of the areas involved. Rarely are bodies made available as proof.
Pakistan's tribal regions have long been key hideouts for Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, including many from other countries. While Pakistan's military has waged offensives in various parts of the northwest, the U.S. has also used drone-fired missiles to target insurgents there.
Most of the missiles hit North Waziristan, a region populated with several militant groups whose primary focus is attacking U.S. and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan. The Pakistani military has not taken action in that area because it says its priority is tame militant groups launching attacks on Pakistan's soil.
The second strike Monday involved four missiles that struck a house in Spalga village near Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, killing eight alleged militants, said two other intelligence officials. There was no immediate word on the exact identities of those killed.